SUNRISE — For the first time in almost two weeks, the Florida Panthers will be playing in a game that counts as they play host to the New York Rangers.
The Panthers have not played since a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 16 as a Covid-19 outbreak decimated the team’s roster.
In the game against Los Angeles, Florida was missing seven regulars due to Covid and had to play two players down.
Florida goes into Wednesday’s game against the Rangers as healthy as it has been in a while.
Although two players (Jonathan Huberdeau and Olli Juolevi) are currently on the Covid list, Florida has all seven of the players who were previously on it.
The Panthers also saw three players (MacKenzie Weegar, Eetu Luostarinen and Owen Tippett) who were on the Covid list on Sunday return on Tuesday.
Florida also welcomes back captain Sasha Barkov, who has missed 13 of the past 14 games with two separate injuries.
Mason Marchment, out since the Panthers’ 4-3 loss in New York last month, will also return to the lineup.
”I feel great, am happy to be back on the ice with the guys,” Barkov said after practice Tuesday. “Everyone is happy to be back. Not the thing we expected, but whatever. We went through it, had really good holidays and got some time off with our families and we are ready to play again.”
Barkov missed eight games with a left knee injury before returning Dec. X against St. Louis.
He then left that game with a suspected shoulder injury in the third.
Barkov was close to a return when the NHL shut the Panthers down following the loss to the Kings but said the extended holiday break not only did him good, it may have been a good refresh for the Panthers.
“It came at a good time for us, we were missing a lot of players those last couple of games due to Covid and injuries,” Barkov said. “It just wasn’t the same team we had all season. Now, almost everyone is back and everyone else will come back soon. We’re almost back to normal.”
Florida had lost its previous three games — including its past two at home — before having three games postponed.
The Panthers also had their game scheduled for Monday against Carolina put off until later as the NHL decided to push back its restart.
Four games, including three road games, will likely be rescheduled in February.
“It was frustrating to miss those games with the knee and I got back, felt good and was happy to be back when that thing happened,” said Barkov, whose team has been outscored 12-3 in its past two home losses.
“But, whatever. Those things happen and you can’t do anything about it. You just have to work through it and try to keep getting better. I feel better now.”